Nathan Yong: Design that appreciates tiny spaces, small objects, and sincerity

With two Red Dot Concept Design Awards and a President’s Design Award for Designer of the Year, Nathan Yong is undeniably one of Singapore’s most prominent creatives.

The co-founder of Grafunkt, a furniture store that stocks international brands like Ligne Roset and Hay, also designs under in-house labels StudioGrafunkt and Folks. He also owns an eponymous design consultancy, through which he has worked with clients the world over, including Living Divani, Design Within Reach and Punt. His pieces have also featured in furniture shows in Japan, Italy and the UK, among others.

For the inaugural exhibition at K+ Curatorial Space gallery, Nathan created two collections. These will be available for sale after the exhibition. Find out why he was attracted to this project, and what he thinks is good furniture design.

You are the first to exhibit at K+ Curatorial Space, which re-launched recently as a multi-concept store at Scotts Square. Why was this project important to you?
It is essential that designers receive support from retailers like K+ Curatorial Space, where we can showcase our works. This is one of the most effective ways to reach out to the public. The response is immediate, and important in helping us better what we do.

You created two collections, “Constellation” and “Construction”, especially for the K+ Nathan Yong exhibition. What inspired these designs?
The visual cue for “Constellation” came from my discussions with Carolyn [Teo, managing director of Kinetic Singapore]. Her concept of K+ Curatorial Space revolves around different people from different backgrounds coming together to establish Singapore as a design destination. “Construction”, meanwhile, drew on the idea that everyone at K+ Curatorial Space represents a different element that goes into building that common vision.

A fresh perspective is required in a world struggling with economic turmoil, says Nathan.

“Construction” is not just an artwork but also a simple display solution in hidden corners of the home.

What do you hope visitors will take away from the exhibition?
I hope visitors will see “Construction” as not just an artwork but also a simple display solution in hidden corners of the home. I hope they walk away appreciating spaces that few people think about, as well as the small objects that are lost among the big ones, and become more concerned with how we use our spaces.

On the other hand, “Constellation” evokes relationships, romance, timelessness and luxury that I hope will help bring about more positivity to this world. The Scandinavian and industrial trends remain relevant because they are functional, beautiful and easy to live with in a world that struggles with financial turmoil. This is a new design language that I want to explore as we move into 2017.

What were some responses you have received since the exhibition opened on July 1? How do you think it reflects how far you’ve come as a designer?
Response has been great from the press, peers and public. Those who have followed my works see the departure from my previous style, especially with “Constellation”. With the global economic slowdown, few brands have dared to explore new designs hence I feel that people need a fresh perspective. So launching these pieces at K+ Curatorial Space is fun not only because of monetary returns but rather sharing the common passion of creating something new in local design and retail.

I started my first retail company, Air Division, in 1999, when I was only 29. It sold furniture I designed during when nobody had heard of Singapore design. I basically knocked on retailers’ doors to show them my designs. I had customers walk out on me after learning the items were designed by a Singaporean. I gave consignment terms just to get my works out in the stores. I would have begged just to have my designs in a store like K+ Curatorial Space.

Now, I’m always happy to help as long as I can sense sincerity, humility and level-headedness in a collaboration. This is the least I can do to support the scene, instead of whining about the what-ifs. I get angry when younger designers don’t appreciate what they have now and start to nit-pick or to become self-conscious about their works. That is not perfection – only fear of rejection.

So what’s your advice for younger designers?
Be shameless, be humble, be genuine, be appreciative, and keep moving on. Don’t be a d***.

"Constellation" evokes relationships, romance, timelessness and luxury.

What is good furniture design?
As a designer, I always ask myself, do I design for others or do I design for myself? I realise the answer is a bit of both. It is up to me as a designer to inspire others to understand their needs and aspirations, because that’s my specialty. So when I design a furniture, I have to consider both sides.

You said you wanted to be the next Philippe Starck.
LOL… I’m probably galactic years behind. I was just 16 when I said that. I am far but closer, which is most important for me. It’s great to be able to work towards a target, but since there’s no timeline, I can afford to take a break every now and then.

The K+ Nathan Yong exhibition happens until August 14. More information here

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